I am often asked by people who know that I have suffered a loss, what they can do to help a friend or relative who is grieving. When someone is grieving it can be difficult to know what to do or say. Here are are few things that may be helpful:
1. Do not say that you understand or compare your experiences unless you have been in nearly the exact same situation. Losing a child is different than losing a parent. Losing a parent is different than losing a sibling and losing a sibling is different than losing a friend and every one of these situations is different than losing a pet. It is hard not to offer a story of your own but try to honor the person’s feelings just by listening to what they need to say.
2. Try to make life easier. The early stages of grief are extremely draining. I remember the first time I had to write a check after we lost Hadley. I spent 20 minutes trying to remember how to fill out the blank lines in front of me. If there is anything you can do to help with daily tasks offer your assistance, but be specific. For example, call when you are heading to the dry cleaners to see if they need anything dropped off or see if you can pick up an extra gallon of milk when you head to the store.
3. Don’t give up. Many people do not want to talk to anyone for days or months after experiencing a loss. Call or email, let them know you are here when they are really or need to talk and then do not be offended when you don’t hear back. Instead, try again in a few weeks or so. It is hard not to feel shunned but grieving is a difficult process and many need to work through the intense feelings on their own. Sooner or later they will need you again just give them time and keep checking in.
4. Keep them in mind during holidays or special days. There is no end to grief. Even years down the road, holidays and anniversaries of certain dates can be very difficult. If you see your grieving friend often and they seem to be doing well but still decline your invite for a Christmas Eve get together try to be understanding. There may always be times that are too difficult for them to socialize.
5. Remember with them. So often people are afraid to bring up Hadley’s name or will mention that I had four children instead of five and I think they feel they are protecting me by doing this. In reality, there is not a loss mom I have spoken to who does not want to talk about her children and have them included in the grandkid count, special occasions and general conversation. Talking about a person who has passed is a great way to honor their memory.
6. Approach religious topics carefully. Even the most religious people can have their faith challenged after experiencing a loss. Be careful when using your own faith/beliefs to comfort someone. Saying things like “God wanted it this way” or “she is in a better place” may make a grieving person feel worse. Try to be aware of the role religion is taking in their grieving process and follow their lead rather than interjecting your own beliefs.
7. Do not give grief a timeline. There is no set time frame for when a grieving person should be ready to work, socialize or get back to their exercise routine. For many, profound grief lasts for years and ultimately, the pain will become less intense but never goes away. Telling someone that they need to get back to work or should be feeling better by now will only make them feel guilty and misunderstood. Meet them where they are at in the process. If they are not ready for a night out with the girls, go out for a coffee or schedule a night in with a bottle of wine.
8. Be patient. I will be the first one to tell you that I am not the best daughter, sister or friend one could have. I don’t attend the family events I used to, I cancel play dates too often and sometimes don’t have the mental energy to support someone else the way they need to be supported. Try to be patient with someone who is grieving. Keep in mind that they are doing the best they can and even if it has been years since their loss, life is never going to be the same.
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Thank you for this Jessica. I’m about two months in to walking with my BFF as she enters unexpected widowhood. They were in the beginnings of an extremely difficult divorce, so mixed emotions are everywhere. This advice is golden. I appreciate it.
XO – Ash
Erin @ Will CarryOn says
I was shocked and saddened by some of the reactions we have come across. And now that we are approaching a year since our last loss, I’m finding some people look at us like, come on enough time has gone by, move on. Finding support is key, and sharing ways to support is what this community is all about. Thank you for sharing.
I love this post! My grief therapist and I continuously talk about how support is so important. Sadly, that support can also have a negative impact. I’m going to put a link to this post on my blog (hope that’s okay!) Thank you!
That is perfectly fine. Glad you liked it Kathryn.
I read this post about a week ago, and it has stayed with me as I try to be supportive of my mother as she grieves over her father’s passing. Thank you for sharing such important information with your readers. Everything you wrote in this post is so true.
This is great, and advice that everyone should have.
I still think about Hadley every time I see your pic! xo
Oh, this was so well done.
And something I’ve been thinking about writing for a long time, but could never do it as well as you!
Everyone’s loss is different and everyone grieves differently. This is a great list because no one (that isn’t in the middle of a tragedy) really knows the right things to say or do and even then people are lost.
Well done, Jessica. Thank you.
Practical Parenting says
This is an excellent post. I can’t tell you how important #7 is…as you know, sometimes it feels like the world moves on without you, and that can be very alienating. I often feel like I have to shout, “it’s only been 6 weeks!” You may not feel like the best sister, daughter, friend…but as someone who has leaned on you almost daily for the past 6 weeks, I have to say that you are far more giving and supportive than you know.
What a fantastic post! Thank you for putting this together to help those who haven’t been on this horrible journey understand a bit better.
Thanks, love you too.
This is so wonderful, Jessica. It is so hard to know what to say or what to do. Thank you.
Perfect and beautiful. Because I have a tendency to do #1 as a way to empathize…good to know it doesn’t help and I’d probably want to kick somebody in the shins if they said that to me.
3 and 4 are EXACTLY what I need to get better about doing. I tend to give people “their space” when really what they need is for me to at least ask and let them know I’m there.
But 5? We can all learn from what you had to say about that one. Because my husband has lost both of his parents and a sibling, and I still tend (after 10 years of marriage) to tiptoe around their memories.
I think that people do #5 because they think they are protecting us but ultimately it makes us either feel like people are forgetting or tiptoeing around the elephant in the room which is just as awkward.
Thanks for including this in Monster Likes, love when I have a post make it there!!
This is such an important post. Grief is a complicated thing, and these are great points, Jessica.
I wish that people would actually look for how to act when someone has a loss, even people who i love and mean the world to me said and still say or do things that just devastate me even worse
thanks for sharing
I know and I think it is that much harder when it comes from people we are closest too.
Thanks a great list that we should be shared by all. I have a hard time with #6 myself. There are certain phrases or offerings that people say to try to make the situation better, but to me it’s just making it hurt more.
Totally agree, I think it is okay for people to say \”I don\’t know what to say.\”
great list Jessica… I’ll have to work on #1 I think… I don’t always compare the loss of my cousin (16yo – car accident) to everyone else’s situation, but sometimes I think I might in instances where I feel a similarity… going to try to be more conscious of it though, and aware of things… thank you.
It is hard not to try to find a similarity when comforting someone but many times they just need to get their feelings out and adding to what they say either stops them from continuing to share of makes them feel that you are lessening their feelings in some cases. Tough to do though!
So well said. And so true. I once had a family member go on and on trying to comfort me about the loss of my son comparing it to her 7 week miscarriage. It was one of the most insulting things ever. I finally put an end to it when I asked her to please “bring me his ashes and shut up.”
I know, not the best way to handle the situation. Probably could have used this post then!!!
Oh I know just what you mean. It is so hard when people try to compare and it is not remotely the same situation. My neighbor compared our loss to that of her dog. Completely insulting and hard to even speak to those people after it happens.
Just found out a friend from high school lost one of his twins 2 days after birth… it’s weird that even though I’ve been there, I had trouble expressing myself to him.
Isn\’t it strange? How we still get tongue-tied a bit? Sometimes I think it might be because we know how much the wrong comment can sting so we are that much more worried about saying the wrong thing.
What a great post. We just lost my FIL in January and my husband and SIL are embodying many of your points. I know when I lose my mom — she has ALS — I will probably be the same.
So hard to face so much loss. I\’m glad your family is being thoughtful and supportive of each other. I wish you lots of strength as you go through trials with your mom.
Mrs. Jen B says
So beautiful. We’re all much the better for knowing you and for benefitting from all the grace you put out into the world.
Awww Jen, thank you for such a wonderful compliment.
wow this was heartfelt and touching..my heart squeezed reading it.
HUGS, HUGS, HUGS
thank you for writing this Jessica!
This was so informative and important.
Those are all very good. Now that I’m past early days of the loss, I’ve found that I would rather have people pay something not so helpful, if their intentions were sincere (“now you have an angel watching over you”), rather than not have said anything at all. I get that it’s hard to know what to say but – your discomfort at having to address my loss lasts all of a minute. My discomfort at my loss is going to last a lifetime.
Thank you for writing this list, and how valuable from a first person perspective with examples. I am sorry for your loss, and am so glad to know Hadley through your blog. *HUG*
Galit Breen says
Thanks for writing this Jessica. Such important things to keep in mind- especially patience and remembering with them. XO
Thank you for reading Galit and for always remembering with me. xo
Victoria KP says
This was a great list. Number 6 really hit home for me. After my miscarriage I cringed anytime someone said, “there is a reason for everything” or “God has a plan”. Maybe. Maybe not. Either way I didn’t find it especially comforting.
The best support I got was from the people who said, “I’m here if you need me” and meant it.
Exactly! I lost my \”there is a reason for everything\” belief after Hadley passed away. When people would say it to me I felt like I was failing some how because I could not find that \”reason.\”
Sara @ Periwinkle Papillon says
Jessica, This is so well done. I think #3 is for me the most important to remember as it ties all the others in. People never get over their grief they just find way to move through life with it. It’s really nice when people understand this and circle back to you.
You are such a blessing. Thank you for this post!
So glad you liked it Sara. I thought of you and Tonya and the other bloggers I know who have suffered loss of any kind. I hope this brings more understanding to what life is like.
Thanks for this post, Jessica. It’s sometimes hard to know how to be supportive without intrusive, especially when I haven’t been in the same situation as the person grieving. This is a good reminder that support is about the person needing the support, not about the supporter.
Thanks Angela, it truly is about needing support much more than you are able to give it. I\’m learning that in this area, it\’s okay to be selfish :).
Great list… I wish I could’ve sent that to everybody 4 years ago. I should print it out and hang it at my window for the world to see. 🙂
Thanks for writing this.
I\’m thinking of renting some billboard space for it. Right in front of my house. 😉
Rach (DonutsMama) says
Thanks Jessica. This is an important message for anyone to hear. Hugs to you.
this is a REALLY important post, Jessica. People didn’t know how to handle us after Cort’s dad’s death or after my miscarriages and most of the time I was just mad. In fact, we didn’t even TELL anyone about the second miscarriage until we were pregnant with Eddie because I didn’t think I could stand to go through being treated so delicately again.
It’s important as the griever to remember that people just want to do what they can and that they mean well. but that can still suck when you’re in the middle of it.
Totally agree Katie, there have been many times where I\’ve had to chant in my own head \”they are just trying to help, they are just trying to help\” when people say something offensive so that I don\’t explode.
Thank you for putting that into words Jessica. So true- The worst feeling is feeling like others have forgotten our children. Its nice to hear their names and know that they still remember.
Totally agree, glad you liked this Becky. Thinking of you all the time!
I couldn’t agree with you more. This list is great and should be shared with everyone.
Kate F. says
This is such a great post. Last year we went through my 6-year-old nephew being diagnosed with a large brain tumor. He is recovering now and working through Chemo, but this was the first time that I experienced something happening both to us and to our family members that you knew, others didn’t know what to say to us.
During the first few months my 3-year-old niece (his sister) lived with us as they were traveling to UofM for treatments, surgeries, etc. We were on both ends – dealing with our grief and worries, and also dealing with how to talk with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law…
Great tips above. Wonderful idea for a useful, relevant post.
Thank you Kate, it is strange to be on that side of conversation isn\’t it?
Thank you for this post. Of all days, today I needed it most.
Oh no, please let me know if I can help in any way. You can always email me or DM me if you need anything.
Christine @ Quasi Agitato says
Thanks. This is very helpful and I hope I don’t have to use this info very often. How do you feel when people say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” It seems a logical thing to say but how does it feel on the other end? Is it alienating?
I think that is perfectly fine. I think the best thing to do when you don\’t know what to do is admitting just that. Saying that you don\’t know what to say is perfectly acceptable.
JDaniel4's Mom says
I willl keep these in mind. Sometimes I am not sure what I should do. These tips will help me.
So glad you find them helpful and I hope you don\’t have to use them often. Also, if you ever need advice feel free to ask me.
What an excellent blog post. It’s so hard to help or try to help someone who is grieving when you haven’t experienced what they are going through. Thank you for sharing.
Glad that you find it helpful. I have wanted to write this for a long time because I know that it is hard to know what to say or do.
What a great post. I’m always at a loss when someone I love is going through these things because I have not experienced it. And it’s often so hard to ask how to handle it from someone who has been through it for fear of upsetting them.
I\’m so glad this was helpful. I\’ve always been aware of how hard it may be to know what to say or do for me and have wanted to write this for a long time.
Number 5 is to me the most important…It actually brought tears to my eyes. I always want to talk about my kids. I also include them and their names to their grandparents and WISH they would be included in the Grand Kid count every time!!!
I know exactly what you mean. I love saying Hadley\’s name and including her in life. But when she is included by other people without me having to ask, I am so grateful.
What a great post. Sadly, I can’t tell you how timely it is for me. All I can say is ‘thank you’
I\’m so glad that it is useful. I\’m here if you need me, just an email away!